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BlackBox (blackbox.cool)
394 points by gregorymichael on Aug 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Yet another HN title that says nothing about what lies on the other side of the link.

"BlackBox: a new shipping company from the creators of Cards Against Humanity"

Isn't that just a bit more descriptive?

For a second there I was really hoping it was a return of the Blackbox Window Manager.


Me too! I use Blackbox for Windows (bbzero) in my Windows 7 machine. It works well once set up, have to put apps in launcher and add to desktop menu.

Fluxbox is great though.

Same here!

The irony is its called Blackbox.

Maybe they could add a subtitle field so we can keep the original title but have a more descriptive one if needed.

What original title? The title was "Blackbox is a new shipping company from the creators of Cards Against Humanity".

So someone breaks the rules to provide a less descriptive title. Must be the silly season on HN.

There's the bookmarklet and everything! I think people who do this, are going for the 'lets be all mysterious about this link' - because yeah, we've all got time to click on random links that we may or may not be interested in... :)

They should enable voting on alternative titles. The most upvoted alternative title would then be displayed, optionally, on the front page next to the original title.

I don't think we can rely on the author always choosing a descriptive title.

BlackBox: A website designed to stimulate seizures

I'd love to see the design brief just to see if that was the goal from the start or they just wound up there after playing on a SNES emulator or something. It's a crazy aesthetic, but a very pleasing sort of crazy in an overpowering way.

Relevant to this one too ;P http://blackboxpuzzles.com/

BlackBox: Art As A Service ( https://theblackbox.ca/hn.html )

Damn, Blackbox is a excellently generic name. Had a heart attack seeing this on the front page. Blackbox should use Blackbox for shipping.

But do they use Blackbox? http://xwinman.org/blackbox.php

When I hear 'blackbox' I think an airplane has crashed.

How else are they going to bait you into clicking it?

"..without publishers or bloodsucking middlemen taking most of the money..."

Obviously publishers and bloodsucking middlemen are more or less synonymous in this sentence. I'm on the board of a publishing company and have also worked as an agent (a true bloodsucker).

Two things:

1. In a practical sense it is easy to see publishers and agents as bloodsucking middlemen. Once you've actually worked with lots of creators and artists what you learn is that there'a very good reason for the middlemen. Artists do not generally wish to have too much to be doing with their public - especially not in a commercial sense. In the end of the day Publishers and Agents give writers the thing they really need most: faith. It sounds like corny bull - hell it is corny bull...but it's also incredibly important.

2. I remember reading a great article about Fintech startups trying to "cut out the middleman" and it had a great observation in it: the middleman is there because the two parties don't trust each other - not because they're stupid. I always think of that when I hear people trying this approach.

#2 is soo spot on. As somewhat of a professional middleman (I'm an engineering manager) I find quite often I've maximized the value I can provide when I've negotiated away this distrust and effectively put myself out of a job. It sounds a bit silly if you say it that way, but connecting people who wouldn't have otherwise connected and getting them to play nice with one another when they may not have otherwise done so is really quite rewarding and definitely quite necessary.

I grew up with a mother who ran a bookshop and a one-woman publishing house. Publishers cop a lot of flack that they don't deserve, particularly if they're also distributors. From editing advice to negotiating with printers to storing your shit to packing it up for you and shipping it off, they take care of the 'boring business stuff' while the creators get to go off and be creative. Artist wants to fuck off for a month? Cool. Order fulfillment wants to fuck off for a month? Not cool.

Here's a great podcast on "The Middleman Economy". It expands on your points and brings up a few more use cases for value-added middlemen that you haven't listed here.


Aren't promotion and partnerships/deals also part of the process? I see that what Blackbox does accomplishes some of the scale factors — but it's all about the logistical layer and not really about the service layer (as you mentioned).

It seems like a cool company and much needed as well, but I'm a bit puzzled by the political rhetoric mixed into the marketing page. It's not even that there's politics involved at all (after all you could make the argument that Tesla/SpaceX are like that as well), it's just how short-sighted it is.

Ignoring for a moment that the "bloodsucking middleman" of today were the hot new shit in their time, what other than innocent looking gifs do we have in way of them not becoming bloodsuckers themselves, once or if they reach a position with that kind of pricing power? It's easy to act all nice when you don't have a choice anyway...

Also, the company shipping the product from the producer to the customer seems pretty "in the middle" to me, no matter their size or political ideas.

These are the makers of Cards Against Humanity you're talking about; it's simply their sense of humor.

that would make sense...

I think that line is pretty smart actually. It's funny, and more importantly, it echoes a worldview that many artists and creatives share -- business is slimy, middlemen are bloodsuckers, and "I just want to sell my thing and make a living doing what I love."

Not saying they all feel this way, but it looks to me like Blackbox knows their audience.

Comparing a company with a horrible homepage gif that helped out a fortune cookie company, to Tesla/SpaceX? So 2028. (No idea what that's supposed to mean).

If it didn't come across, there is no fortune cookie company. Blackbox created the site and product for the fortune cookie company to advertise their actual product: distribution.

For a second there I thought the Window Manager Blackbox had risen from the dead. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbox

I love Blackbox and still use it today, though I privately maintain my own fork with a few bug fixes and hacks for my personal preferences. Best WM I have ever used.

I'm sure your contributions would be welcome in the community. I too run it for my daily driver with my own code tweaks as well. The only thing I did was remove the top bar that had the desktop switcher and clock, and left a 1px space to activate the menu with the mouse (or kb combo) :D

I'm interested --- is your fork public?

Not really. I made a github thing for it but I don't push often and a lot of my changes have hard coded hacks for things I like but prolly wouldn't apply to others (like I use an xrandr setup but rarely actually use the second monitor except for youtubes etc., so I hacked "full screen" and "switch monitor" to use those coordinates based on my setup.)

pfft, fluxbox ftw

Yeah, I'm old. I used blackbox on Linux in '98. Nostalgia.

I used to switch back and forth between that and enlightenment... those were the days...

Now I just have tmux open fullscreen with a couple of window splits & sessions open all the time.

Honestly though, the experience is way better this way.

And I used BBlean on windows in the 2000s.

Oh, it's a fulfillment house. There are lots of companies which do that, including Amazon and UPS. The site seems to be addressed to people who don't know that. Nice art, though.

Not to be confused with "blackbox.com", which sells networking accessories.

It may be that they are functionally identical to other fulfilment companies, but if they do a better job of convincing their indie seller target market to use them and respond better to their needs, it probably doesn't matter.

> Oh, it's team chat. There are lots of companies which do that, including HipChat and Campfire. The site seems to be addressed to people who don't know that. Nice UI, though.

> Not to be confused with "slackware.com", which is a Linux distribution.

Exactly. And if people are curious about the type of pain that might drive people to a service like this, they can read about episodes like:

>"After fighting through FedEx's rigorous claim process they declared that the package is not valuable beyond the cost of the paper it took to create this handcrafted, original artwork," Scofield and Shuey wrote. "Even though the package was insured, they aren't willing to pay the full $6,000 it cost to create the intricate set and are only covering the cost of the materials."


I side with FedEx on this and it makes perfect sense. I doubt blackbox would handle it any differently.

The problem is that $6000 is just an arbitrary price made up by a single person. There's nothing stopping me from drawing a stick figure, saying I charge $1 million for the labor that goes into this drawing, shipping+insuring it for a ton of money, then attempting to convince FedEx it was damaged during shipping to claim my money.

Additionally, FedEx did tremendously more than just pay for the materials. A piece of Tyvek like that costs a few dollars, they paid out $1000 for it.

Tried to give this a go (It sounds cool and shipping that scales is a massive pain) but the $5 press kit has $33 shipping to the UK! Guess this won't be solving my shipping problems after all.

$61 to ship $5 press kit to Latvia. And takes a couple of weeks to do.

$40 to Finland, would take a couple of weeks too.

The cookies seem cheaper to ship though, $5.50 to Germany.

And they don't ship to Ukraine at all

"Quality and simplicity are more important than saving a few pennies on shipping. Our price includes the beautiful Blackbox checkout button, our real-time dashboard, and our dedicated customer support team."

"Artists own the relationship with their customers and can talk to them whenever and however they want. That relationship works best without bloodsucking businessmen in the middle."


Immediately hit 'inspect element' on bb-animated-header

Until I scrolled down I thought that was the whole submission -- some sort of crazy CSS/JS/canvas-driven web animation demo.

I would have been happy with just that, but the explanations of how many boxes they had shipped where just as good: "If you stacked them all on top of each other they would be taller than the tallest man!"

That's one gnarly gif. Did the same thing.

Slightly disappointingly it's just a big 1.4MB file with 32 frames in it...

I wonder if if could be done two orders of magnitude smaller with old-school 8-bit demoscene colour palette cycling? That's clearly the aesthetic they're referencing... I bet some early '90's graphics hacker could have made that in 4096 bytes ;-) (probably not - certainly not at the full 700+ x 500+ resolution...)

The color cycling images I've seen have all been static. How would it work when there's this much animation involved?

It wouldn't

It actually would! Someone posted this on HN recently: http://www.effectgames.com/demos/canvascycle/?sound=0

They are all static.

Maybe it would work if you can color cycle a gif, and keep the animated parts solid colors and cycle the background.

I have seen that before, but I don't think the level of complexity in the BlackBox gif would be achievable with that technique (assuming the technical constraints did also apply)

5% retail price? That seems quite steep.

I've personally shipped 1,000+ gifts for Kickstarter backers, I'd suggest using Easypost.com unless you really need a warehouse. It's super cheap.

EasyPost aren't a "3PL" (third party logistics provider) though, just a layer on top of shipping companies. Warehouse space and people's time is expensive, that's what you're paying for. Even then, if you're just fulfilling a kickstarter campaign, the tools that the shipping companies provide for small-scale dispatch are plenty.

I really thought this was going to be my favorite yet evil puzzle game Blackbox. http://blackboxpuzzles.com/

Just downloaded and started playing it. This game is fun, weird, and I can already see frustration in my future.

ROT01 spoiler:

When I had to [ivou epxo nz ifbeqipoft] I knew this game meant business :)

pedantic, but isn't that ROT25?

I helped beta test blackbox, was really fun and the developer was fun to work with for the few pieces of feedback I had.

Hah yep. And once again I learn that I don't know the alphabet as well as you'd think!

Thank _you_ for the help Cogito! FYI: New beta is going out soon ;)

Oh, so you're the one responsible for me tossing my phone about and abusing it in ways it was not intended to be used?

I'm on Stage 3 of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kübler-Ross_model right now, pleading with the stupid lights to respond.

Seriously, this game is fantastic and frustrating. Good job.

Since you're here...

Any timeline on an android port?

I actually ran it through three rounds of ROT9. (http://www.rot13.com)

Ahh of course, I was being silly.

3x9 === 1 mod 26, so I think you are right in saying it was encoded with ROT01.

The decoding is ROT25 == -ROT01, which is what I was thinking about. It's fun to be pedantic but it's better when you're right...

Thanks for posting, I'm really enjoying it so far!

iOS only? Meh.

This seems like an interesting service, but I want too toss out a suggestion for those looking to disseminate info about a product or service:

Tell me a story.

More specifically, use a hypothetical story to provide context and an example of why the hell I'm reading your page. This is the explanatory copy on this page:

Our mission is to help you sell and ship stuff directly to your fans for a fraction of the cost and effort of doing it yourself. Blackbox works like a co-op: if we all go in together, we get the cheapest pricing, the fastest shipping, and the best service. The shipping is fast. We pay your sales tax. You can customize the packaging and the inserts. It’s pretty great.

At the end of this, I still am confused about what you do. What would help is a hypothetical use case and narative, and to demonstrate that, I'll invent one:

Let's say you're running a Kickstarter. You're a domain expert who's built something awesome, and you've even successfully kickstarted a project to build what you love. Now though, after having built all these gizmos you need to ship those to your backers, and this is something you're NOT an expert in. Looking in to shipping, you see it's going to involve complicated contracts and procedures to ship your gizmo at any scale, and at a cost that FAR exceeds your back of the envelope calculation of price and effort. You wish there where some simple shipping service where you only worry about the packaging, and they handle picking up from the manufacturer, storage, and shipping; a service with straightforward pricing, and customer service oriented at helping someone with your needs and your scale.

That's where BlackBox comes in. Our mission is to help you sell and ship stuff directly to your fans for a fraction of the cost and effort of doing it yourself. Blackbox works like a co-op: if we all go in together, we get the cheapest pricing, the fastest shipping, and the best service. The shipping is fast. We pay your sales tax. You can customize the packaging and the inserts. It’s pretty great.

I don't know if the above story accurately represents what it is that BlackBox provides, but I hope you can see that having a story helps a reader answer the question of "is this helpful or relevant to my situation or goals?".

Personally I think it's fairly obvious from the first sentence what it does. It's blunt and to the point, kinda like how the service seems to operate. I enjoyed how efficiently and clearly the whole thing came across.

According to their FAQ, they sell merchandise on consignment. I think the source of your confusion is that they refer to themselves as a shipping company when that's not what they are.

Forming it into a narrative like that makes me want to run out of the room as fast as possible. Tell me what you do, great. The story you propose doesn't say anything more about what they do than the simpler version. Don't tell me I screwed up calculating shipping costs or what I wish for. That's hostile and putting words in my mouth.

Sounds to me like yet another fulfillment service but maybe they take care of more? Anyone know how it compares to fulfilled by Amazon or what comparable services exist? I'm curious to know if it's cheaper or just easier. (Or both, or neither!)

it's a freakin co-op!

Yeah so what does that really mean and how will it be cheaper than using some other distributor?

Who is the pixel artist?

Paul Robertson -- one of the best pixel artists of this era.

Ah I suspected as much. A local Melbourne boy.

Yep! We've got lots of great artists here. I met him once, shortly after he did the Simpsons intro piece.

Presumably you have to pay to ship all your inventory to them in the first place. Didn't see any mention of that in the details.

I'd assume you'd just have your finished product drop shipped to their fulfillment center.

Isn't this much, much cheaper than shipping each item individually, so the per-item cost won't change much?

Yes, that is how this kind of fulfillment works.

That's what I got from the info provided.. essentially bulk ship all of the stock you have now and then get back to producing content until you've got another worth-while batch to ship.. interesting. That's a bold move cotton, let's see how it plays out.

So is this Gumroad but for physical goods? The sales flow is similarly out of your hands, but it's super easy to set up.

I'm interested to see how 'We pay your sales tax' works out.

Also, should there be an epilepsy warning for the header?

That sounds like an... interesting accounting challenge. Are they actually paying sales tax on behalf of the vendor, or are they paying sales tax in their own name and acting as the legal retail seller?

They're handling the CC processing and the whole checkout flow, too. It's not so much a shipping company as a "sell stuff online" company. I don't get why they're presenting themselves that way.

I'd guess because there are a lot of "sell stuff online" companies, but most of them leave it up to you to handle the shipping.

Yes like ClickBank

$35 shipping to Canada for a box of fortune cookies. Pass.

Unless you _only_ want to sell stuff inside the US. Then it's okay.

These guys spent more time on animating their team portraits than explaining their product

As a person who needs this kind of thing, I immediately understood what they do and the value they provide. I think the messaging is quite well directed at their target while staying within the CAH brand.

$50.75 US to ship to Australia.

Depends on the item. Looks like the press kit's kinda large, because buying a cool little pin from Max Temkin (http://maxistentialism.com) says $10 for shipping.

I saw the TLD and thought to myself, "What a silly thing to end your url with. This better be one badass website".

Then I opened the page and saw that gif, and they totally redeemed themselves! Very mesmerizing.

https://shotput.com is a YC company also doing fulfillment. It seems focused at slightly larger customers though.

This needs an NSFW tag, like, when you open this page and your monitor starts psychedelically flashing, everyone turns around and stares at you to shame.

I actually saw the animated header and clicked the back button thinking it was just a gif and no actual page (until I read the comments).

Shipping the promotional material package to Brazil is quite expensive and deliver date format is a bit confusing. Looks great for orders placed within the US, though.

Regular Shipping Delivers 2/9-9/9 $43.25

I'm just going to watch that gif all day now. Thanks.

I always wonder about the conversion metrics when I see an artistic website like that. I think the website would perform better without that huge header.

"BlackBox: The makers of Cards Against Humanity do another stupid thing and get paid lots of money for it"

^ that is a much more accurate title

So like Massdrop but for any arbitrary product?

More like 1 big massdrop for specifically seller's shipping & fulfillment costs (vs paying full price for shipping, negotiating fulfillment deals yourself, or paying amazong to do it).

Lost me at 1489167 -> 1489280 -.>


1489167 -> 1489280 -.>

At least pretend to get your realtime data right before posting on HN.

They seems to link the stuff to this https://cdn.blackbox.cool/uploads/json/boxes_shipped.json

Perhaps they do sent the real number, but it is being cached by the CDN?

Even if that's the awesomest tech available, the "realtime update" is so fake and so immediately identifiable as such and so immediately confirmable as such (and the most eye-drawing component of their homepage!) that the company loses all credibility. Without knowing anything else about them, it's a pretty bad indicator.

Do you really think people care that much about the counter?

Or it is just a case of dead-reckoning... which is pretty standard.

You needed to press F5? I just assumed it was nonsense - a new order shipping company, shipping 100+ items per second?

I believe that they were responsible for delivering the Exploding Kittens Kickstarter.

Some clickbaits deserve more than just a single "downvote".

It's the sharing economy hitting creating companies. it's about freaking time...

That would go well with bitcoin

seems to be down

Works fine from London.

That intro. Seems like they are selling headaches not shipping.

I agree its a bit in your face but it does a good job of getting your attention instead of making it look like another garden variety slap-stick startup web template.

Wow, what an offensive website! First thing I do when I visit websites like that is to close the tab.

Hope they aren't a business. The horrible pixel art from 1980s doesn't help.

I actually came here to comment on how amazing it looks, truly well done and captivating.

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